Building Technology, Talent and Policy Bridges to a Low-Carbon Future

author: James Rogers, Duke Energy Corporation
published: Oct. 20, 2010,   recorded: April 2008,   views: 2622

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After 20-plus years in the utility industry, James Rogers is emphatic that we must “build a bridge to a low carbon world.” He confesses to a missionary zeal around clean energy, and to the fact that he must reinvent his business, Duke Energy.

Rogers invokes 3, 12 and 41 as the key numbers defining his challenge: Duke, with four million customers in five states, is the third largest emitter of CO2 among U.S. companies, the 12th largest corporate emitter in the world, and, 41st among nations if the firm were a country.

Rogers conceives of the challenge in terms he calls “cathedral thinking.” Just as it took three generations to design and build Notre Dame, so will it take decades to resolve the carbon issue. “It took us 100 years to get here, and will take a while to get out of this…. We need a sense of urgency, but not a sense of panic…a sense of hope, not a sense of fear. “

He names “two aspirations for the company.” The first involves modernizing and de-carbonizing the power supply, which he thinks can be accomplished if carbon capture and the next generation of nuclear technology prove themselves. The second aspiration is to maximize energy efficiency, even as demand for electricity rises.

Reducing greenhouse emissions will mean getting politicians to back an economy wide cap and trade on CO2, with “allowances to help make the transition for those dependent on coal.” Twenty-five states get more than 50% of their electricity from coal, Rogers reminds us. A consumer revolt might prevent meaningful laws from passing. While pursuing mitigation, we must also struggle with adaptation. Rogers detects great difficulty getting our politicians to aid places like Bangladesh that will most suffer from warming. Above all, the U.S. must start funding technology R&D. Rogers despairs of politicians responsibly dispersing R&D dollars, so he recommends a national trust fund to focus such spending.

As a firm believer in incentives, Rogers would like to reward utilities for saving watts. He says “energy efficiency is one of the five ways you generate electricity -- it should be treated as a production option.” Duke Energy is attempting to achieve efficiencies by modernizing coal plants, and hopes to find software to optimize and streamline its operations as well. While customers and investors routinely evaluate Rogers’ performance, he most cares about his family’s judgment in the future. “At the end of the day, I want my grandchildren to say my granddaddy made the right decision when faced with 3, 12, 41.”

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